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Napoleon's Wars: An International History, 1803-1815 Hardcover – Bargain Price, November 13, 2008
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Historians of Napoléon Bonaparte must assess his role in causing the wars named after him. Esdaile assigns heavy responsibility to the first consul and self-crowned emperor yet declines to analyze the period in exclusively personal terms. Rather, he develops the intersection between Napoléon’s militaristic proclivities and the international relations on which he dreamed of hammering his name into history. Much of Esdaile’s narrative recounts conflicting agendas of the European powers and dwells particularly on suspicions of Britain by Austria, Prussia, and Russia. In degrees, these powers all pursued their traditional foreign objectives, sparking several wars entirely unrelated to France’s territorial expansion. In consequence, France, spurred by its leader’s lack of political restraint and thirst for conquest, was able to war advantageously against one or two powers at a time until the formation in 1813–15 of the alliance that finally defeated Napoléon. Recapturing the flux of international diplomacy and Napoléon’s congenital rejection of compromise, Esdaile persuasively places the diplomatic foundation to popular military histories about the Napoleonic wars. --Gilbert Taylor
Deft, authoritative, often strikingly counter-intuitive, this is the definitive word on the subject.
Top customer reviews
While not intended as criticisms, I wanted to point out a few things about the book for potential readers:
1) The book's title is a bit misleading, because it is primarily a diplomatic history and spends very little time on military issues. Major battles are described in a sentence or two, or sometimes only mentioned in passing. Of course there are plenty of other military histories for this period, but I wanted to point this out.
2) As other reviewers point out, the author is not a fan of Napoleon, and is borderline hostile. While it is hard to argue with many of his conclusions, personally I find arguments more convincing if made in a more objective manner.
3) As other reviewers have pointed out, while not a big deal, this book is a bit difficult to read because it is not broken down into very digestible chunks--everything from paragraphs to chapters are of great length.
4) The best thing about this book in my opinion are all of the quotes from letters from and memiors of the various historical actors (from Napoleon to junior officers, Metternich, etc) which the author frequently uses to make his points--reading these first-hand accounts from these highly intelligent and articulate observers was a real pleasure and revelation.
This book is about the international scene at the time of Napoleon and it does it quite well. If you want to learn all about what was going on in the world at the time of Napoleon's reign, this book is an excellent read. The book is about what each nation was doing and what each king, his advisors, or government were thinking in relation to the reshaping of Europe as the result of the French Revolution and Napoleon's military victories. Esdaile's book is about the complex political realities that faced all nations Britain, Austria, Russia, Prussia, Ottoman Empire (etc.), to the most minute actors such as the Kingdom of Naples during the Third Coalition. Not to be forgotten, Spain plays an important role in the narrative and the book goes so far as to cover events in the Americas (Spanish America, The U.S., French Louisiana) and how they impacted affairs in Europe.
Esdaile does place a lot of the blame on Napoleon's personality as the cause for war and this may raise a slight red flag of bias (because in some cases one could argue Napoleon had no choice owing to the actions of the British and other nations). Still, Esdaile makes a good case and does show how other authors have explained the causes of. Allegations of a perceived bias denies the fact that Esdaile may be making a really good argument which is his right to do and which makes it unique.
The book does not claim to be a book on military history. The battles are mostly covered in short detail. So, if you are looking for military history look elsewhere. As stated before, this is a book on international history in relation to Napoleon's wars.
I would like to note that Esdaile writes like a professional. His historical prose and erudition flows. This makes for a pleasurable read which is not tiresome. I did see someone criticize the book here on Amazon for poor proofing. I have read it cover to cover and only found six grammatical errors such as the use of a "had had" which was simply unnecessary, a "the that," or the spelling of nevertheless as "never the less." The errors did not detract from my reading of the book but probably should have been picked up by the editors.
My only other comment would be that the chapters can be long. If I were the editor and this book was to be printed again, I would suggest to the author that he put in subheadings to break the chapters up, so that a reader has a place to pause. It would also help in certain areas where the author transitions from one topic to another.
Despite these two minor points, the book is a great read if you want to learn about the world at the time of the Napoleonic Wars.